Argentina vs. Ecuador: Winners and Losers from International Friendly
Argentina made it two wins from two in their USA-inspired international break, beating Ecuador, 2-1, at MetLife Stadium.
Sergio Aguero opened the scoring early as La Albiceleste dominated the first exchanges, but Miller Bolanos drew his side level shortly before the half-hour mark. A counter-attacking battle ensued and provided great entertainment, and it was Javier Pastore who scored the winning goal to settle the match in his side's favour late on.
Here, B/R picks its winners and losers.
Winner: Sergio Aguero, Who Impressed
Sergio Aguero constantly faces a battle for a place in the Argentina XI, as Lionel Messi dominates a starting spot and about eight hopefuls compete to fill the other two. That means in every performance he has to contribute, with Carlos Tevez, Gonzalo Higuain, Ezequiel Lavezzi and more breathing down his neck at every turn.
It's fair to say, on this occasion, he impressed. The Manchester City man opened the scoring in the ninth minute by heading home from a corner at the back post and led several driving counter-attacks from deep. Had his team-mates' decision-making been better at times, he may have had the chance to net a couple more.
It was a difficult surface to play on, but Aguero spearheaded most attacks. He linked with Angel Di Maria well and put in an excellent 75 minutes.
Loser: Angel Di Maria, Who Was Very Profligate
Angel Di Maria's nightmare season continues, with poor domestic form transferring to the international stage in front of an expectant MetLife Stadium crowd.
His linkup play with Sergio Aguero often produced great shooting positions and chances, but the Manchester United man constantly blazed his efforts over the bar, wide of goal or straight into Alexander Dominguez's arms.
When Ezequiel Lavezzi replaced him with 10 minutes to go, Di Maria looked familiarly hunched as he left the pitch. It's just not happening for him.
Winner: Sergio Romero, Who Looks Surprisingly Sharp
Sergio Romero doesn't play much domestic football, and it's genuinely quite remarkable that another Argentine goalkeeper hasn't been able to usurp him as the national No. 1 before now.
Every international game he gets is a blessing and an opportunity to prove his form doesn't suffer despite taking a backseat when it comes to club football, and on this occasion, he proved he's still sharp and ready to make an impact.
He was called upon early and often, forced to dive at Felipe Caicedo's feet to stop Argentina from falling behind. With Geronimo Rulli starting for Real Sociedad and recently being called up to the squad, Romero is on the hot seat for every minute played. Can he stave off the competition?
Losers: The Soaked Fans, Who Chanted 'Messi' but Were Ignored
MetLife Stadium's official website advertised Argentina vs. Ecuador with a simple tag line: "Messi is coming!" Droves of fans made their way to the ballpark and battled horrendous downpours in order to catch a glimpse of the genius in person...except he never stepped onto the pitch.
Lionel Messi was the reason half the fans paid money to watch, and after seeing no action—not a single minute—against El Salvador days beforehand, they will have felt sure he'd make an appearance here.
The Argentine wizard is a powerful marketing tool, but ultimately, fans were disappointed or let down—injury concerns or not. It's gutting.
Sacha Pisani of Goal.com quoted Argentina head coach Gerardo Martino as saying:
I understand the expectation that people want to see Leo but he has not been able to play.
With Messi we waited until the last minute for his inclusion but there was no way to play him.
Filip Bondy of the New York Daily News wrote:
It goes without saying that Messi, arguably the greatest player in the game today, wouldn’t endanger worsening a minor injury to play in a meaningless game.
He has a home-and-home Champions League series upcoming with his club team Barcelona, against Paris Saint-Germain starting April 15.
This would be like asking an ailing LeBron James to show up before the NBA Finals for an exhibition game against the Pistons.
Winner: Gustavo Quinteros, Who Has Ecuador Playing Better Football
Gustavo Quinteros was appointed manager of Ecuador after the 2014 FIFA World Cup and has sought to play more expansive, attacking football. In Brazil, the team performed within themselves, perhaps a touch cautiously, and provided a difficult watch at times.
But even without Enner Valencia, Antonio Valencia and Jefferson Montero—the country's three best players—from the start of the game, La Tri played exciting football from the 15th minute onward. Felipe Caicedo looked good, and the Walter Ayovi-Juan Carlos Paredes full-back combination got forward well.
Argentina genuinely looked worried at the back at times despite starting well over €50 million worth of talent.